BUFFALO, N.Y. — The governor signed legislation legalizing marijuana in New York state at the end of March, but there is a lot of work left to do.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) said she hopes a cannabis control board and advisory board are set up by the end of legislative session to begin developing regulations and make sure goals of the bill are met. She said the most important piece of the law is it focuses on equity first and revenue second.
“It requires that the state invest at least 40% of whatever it earns into the lives, communities and neighborhoods where people live that have been negatively impacted by the mass incarceration,” Peoples-Stokes said.
The legislation also sets a goal for 50% of the cannabis economy to benefit minority- and women-owned businesses, disabled veterans and distressed farmers. On Thursday, Peoples-Stokes and other industry experts participated in a roundtable hosted by Phillips Lytle and Buffalo Business First.
The majority leader said part of that focus needs to be on people who have been involved in the state’s multibillion-dollar underground industry as well.
“There has to be an opportunity to allow people who are, if they desire, right now underground to become above ground,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we did not preclude who could have a previous felony to having access to a license.”
NY Cannabis Growers and Processors Association Co-Founder Kaelen Castetter said people involved in the underground potentially provides a large base of knowledgeable, trained entrepreneurs and employees. He said New York has an opportunity to avoid the mass consolidation of the industry by already established businesses.
The state has licenses for cultivators, processors, adult-use cooperatives, distributors, microbusinesses, delivery, nurseries and on-site consumption.
“There’s so many opportunities, and what we’re allowing entrepreneurs to do is develop their niche and develop an excellent business without as the majority leader mentioned, having to be overly capitalized,” Castetter said.
Former Buffalo Mayor and lobbyist Anthony Masiello said municipal leadership will have their own priorities to make sure individual cities, towns and villages benefit.
“I really think it’s important that you sit down first with the leadership of these communities, the elected leadership, whether it’s a mayor or a county executive, or a village mayor or whatever the case may be, to get a sense as to what they want and what they expect out of this program,” he said.
Masiello said while municipalities cannot change the intent of the state law, they can reasonably regulate things like operation times and where businesses are located.